Life is about to get easier for Westmoreland County’s 17 district judges.
They will begin using iPads for many of the offices’ functions, including video arraignments of suspects and police filings that need approval, said Don Heagy, magisterial district court administrator.
“This gives us added flexibility to do things,” Heagy said. “We thought it was wise to move in that direction.”
Fifteen of the county’s district judges will get iPads in the next month after a brief pilot program with two judges — Roger Eckels and L. Anthony Bompiani — proved to be a success. Heagy said the county’s technology department is setting up devices for the remaining judges.
“The camera is a lot more reliable and better,” Bompiani said, adding that FaceTime is much better than a video system he uses to communicate with police via laptops supplied to his office by the county. “We can actually sign documents on them … and email them back and forth.”
Many police officers have their own iPhones or iPads, and some have used the devices to communicate with Bompiani, he said.
“In the past few weeks, I’ve done that probably half a dozen times,” he said. “The older systems don’t always work.”
That’s a problem Murrysville police have encountered, said Chief Tom Seefeld, president of the county’s police chiefs association.
“We have actually experienced a lot of connection problems and have lost connections with judges” during a video arraignment, he said.
But with an iPad, “it’s almost a given that the connection is going to be made, and you’re going to keep it,” he said.
The county last bought computers for the district judge offices in 2012, Heagy said. The iPads, cases and keyboards for all judges cost about $8,500.
In Mt. Pleasant, borough officers have been testing the iPad system with Eckels and are ready to go, police Chief Douglas Sam said.
At least two iPads will be donated to the department, manager Jeff Landy said.
Sam said officers in his small department will be able to use the devices from a crime scene to fill out paperwork for arrest and search warrants and protection-from-abuse petitions and send them to Eckels. Now, officers must drive back to the station to type up the paperwork, fax it to the judge and wait for an approval to be faxed back.
“We’re guessing that this will save us about an hour for each” time they use the iPads, Sam said. “It provides extra security at the crime scene. We don’t have to leave the crime scene and then go back.”
District Judge Jason Buczak said tasks will be completed more quickly with iPads.
“It’s for convenience of getting it done, of getting a search warrant signed very fast,” he said. “They can email us a search warrant and it can be … signed, sealed and sent back to them.”
But the judges aren’t completely ditching the fax machines just yet. Officers will still be able to send over documents in need of a judge’s approval just as they do now.
“It’s not a change; it’s an addition,” Heagy said.
Renatta Signorini is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-837-5374 or [email protected].